Your new book Creature Teacher is all about Jake and his favourite teacher Mr Hyde. When you were at school did you have a favourite teacher? If so why?
Can I have two? My favouriteteacher at primary school was Mr Furzman. He was an Aussie, and bubbled with energy and enthusiasm for everything, just like Mr Hyde, I guess! I remember an amazing project he did with us about Australian wildlife,which involved us pupils creating a musical interpretation of the Australian dawn chorus using both real andhomemade instruments. I’m not sure we sounded much like a dawn chorus, but it was great fun.And I learned a lot about kookaburras.
My other favourite was my biology teacher at secondary school, Mrs Powell, whoencouraged my bizarre interest in snails. I can’t look at a snail now and not think of Mrs Powell.
How did you come up with the story of Creature Teacher?
The concept of Creature Teacher is loosely based onthe Robert Louis Stevenson story, The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, in which a respectable Victorian doctor periodically changes into a crazed psychopath. Stevenson’s Mr Hyde is much darker than Creature, though!I used to be a teacher myself, so I drew on all that experience to build up the characters. I identify strongly with Mr Hyde, because I know what it’s like to have to try to juggle making lessons fun and interesting, getting knowledge into pupils’ heads, and stopping chaos breaking out!
If you had chosen to be a teacher what lesson do you think you would teach and why?
Funny you should ask that –I was a teacher! I taught art and design, because I’m a keen artist ... well, okay, I just like making a big painty mess.I also spent a year in Greece teaching English as a Foreign Language after I left university, which was really scary, because I’d never taught before and had to learn on the job! If I ever went back into the classroom I think I’d like to teach English, because that’s what I’m focussed on in my life right now.
Have you always had a love of writing stories?
Oh yes! I’ve got poems, diaries, unfinished novels and short stories on my shelf going back to my teenage years. I have always loved writing, but actually up until about six years ago I wrote mainly songs, not stories! I was in a band for a while and wrote all the songs for the band, then after the band split up I played solo acoustic gigs for a while. I always got horribly nervous going on stage, though, so I guess I’m more a writer than a performer at heart.
Do you have any tips for all the young writers out there?
Get out and do stuff! It doesn’t have to be wild and crazy, like skydiving or saving the world, but just anything that broadens your pool of experiences to draw on in your writing. Getting the bus into town always seems to work for me. Read as much as you can. Write as much as you can (but don’t forget to sleep at some point!). Keep everything you write, even if you think it’s not that good –I often grab ideas from old stuff that I’ve written to recycle in a new story. And always carry a notebook and pencil to jot down those flashes of inspiration that hit you when you’re somewhere inconvenient. Like on the bus, or skydiving.
Do you have any plans to write another Creature Teacher?
I’ve already written a second book in the series – Creature Teacher Goes Wild, which publishes in August this year. It’s about a school trip to an adventure park and the completely bonkers antics that Creature gets up to there. I’ve just started working on the third book in the series too, which is very exciting!
What has been your greatest achievement?
Having my first book published, of course! I feel very proud when children tell me they’re loving it. It gives me the boost to want to go on and achieve more.
What is your plan for 2015?
I’ll be writing two more Creature Teacher books as well as working on a couple of other writing projects. I’m also looking forward to visiting schools, bookshops and libraries to talk about the books, as well – it’s going to be a totally hectic and exciting year!
To find out more about Sam's new book 'Creature Teacher' visit Oxford University Press.